An unbelievable amount of information bubbles to the surface during training camp. Position battles at skill positions, young players rising quickly and injury rehabs are among the topics we try to follow closest on our News Page.
In case you haven’t been F5-ing the hell out of that News Page over the last two weeks (shame on you), this column will get you caught up. Evan Silva will be back in few days with the AFC notes.
After you digest all this information, be sure to check out our Draft Guide. We’ve been adjusting our rankings and projections to reflect everything that’s been happening at camp. You’ll also find exclusive columns, unparalleled player profiles and tons more.
The Cardinals’ rushing “attack” is predictably in shambles. Rashard Mendenhall is battling tendinitis in his right knee – the same one he had reconstructed following the 2011 season. Ryan Williams is on crutches because his own problematic right knee is acting up. Combine that with a bottom-five offensive line and we have a fantasy situation to avoid. I already had Mendenhall on my ADP Overvalued list before camp began. … Bruce Arians’ offense doesn’t normally feature tight ends. Luckily for Rob Housler, Arians sees him as an oversized and highly athletic wideout. Housler has been buzzing throughout camp. … The Cardinals haven’t officially named Michael Floyd their No. 2 receiver yet, but it’s coming. He’s followed up his big spring with a strong camp. Andre Roberts will still play plenty because Arians loves three-wide sets (see T.Y. Hilton last year).
The Falcon that has raised the most eyebrows is Julio Jones. He’s reportedly quicker, showing better body control and has improved his route-running. … Tony Gonzalez has barely been at camp as he gets the Brett Favre legend treatment. He’ll still be more than ready for Week 1. … Steven Jackson is getting tons of work in the screen and dump-off game.
Under new OC Mike Shula, the Panthers are installing a more conventional offense. Less read-option plays for Cam Newton may sound bad, but it’s the same scheme they ran over the final half of last year. During that span, Newton accounted for 394 rushing yards, 17 total touchdowns and the team went 5-3. … Jonathan Stewart (ankle surgeries) hasn’t even come off the active/PUP list yet. His availability for Week 1 is in doubt and his ability to sustain health is in even graver doubt. DeAngelo Williams has been handling all the first-team reps. He’s undervalued in fantasy circles right now. … Brandon LaFell has gone unchallenged for the No. 2 WR job. It’s Ted Ginn vs. Domenik Hixon for the yawn-worthy No. 3 role.
Brandon Marshall was coming off hip surgery, but reported to camp at a rock-solid 235 points with 6.2 percent body fat. His physical condition is not an issue. … New coach and passing-game guru Marc Trestman is happy with Jay Cutler’s performance so far. You won’t find many QB2s with more upside. … Cutler is being implored to locate Matt Forte in the passing game. GM Phil Emery admitted that one of the reasons he fired Lovie Smith was because Forte was underutilized as a receiver. … Alshon Jeffery has been impressing and has the starting “Z” job locked up. The problem is that he’s third on the target totem pole, behind Marshall and Forte.
Dez Bryant had a flawless offseason and carried that over to camp. The beat writers can’t stop buzzing about how he’s dominating practices. … Third-round WR Terrance Williams was working his way toward the No. 3 receiver gig until a concussion took him out of action. He’ll have to scrap his way back toward Dwayne Harris once cleared. … Tony Romo (back) has been practicing without issue and reiterated that he’s 100 percent. Owners practicing the very viable “wait on a QB” strategy can safely target Romo. … The Cowboys barely played any starters in Sunday’s night’s Hall of Fame game win. … Lance Dunbar did play and rushed four times for 22 yards as the starter. Phillip Tanner came on next for a 10/59/1 line. Joseph Randle was third. Dunbar remains the favorite to enter the season as DeMarco Murray’s handcuff.
Ryan Broyles (ACL) was cleared right from the start of camp and we haven’t heard about any setbacks. In fact, he’s getting open at will. Impressive. Broyles has a chance to close on Nate Burleson for primary possession duties and will have value as the third wideout in a pass-happy offense anyway. There aren’t many better late-round fliers. … Mikel Leshoure continues to slog his way through camp unimpressively. It’s safe to consider Joique Bell the heavy favorite for backup duties behind Reggie Bush. … Brandon Pettigrew got himself in supreme physical condition this offseason, showing up to camp rocked up. Unsurprisingly, it’s his contract year. Still, he’ll have to show a major leap in explosion to get on the TE1 radar. Last year, Pettigrew ranked 38th among tight ends in catches of 20+ yards with just three and scored a grand total of three touchdowns despite ranking eighth in targets (100).
Eddie Lacy became the talk of the internet when a photo surfaced of him looking like he swallowed Precious. It turned out that the photo was just taken from a bad angle, and Lacy is in fine physical condition. The Packers’ coaches confirmed he passed his conditioning tests. Then Lacy starred during Saturday night’s intrasquad scrimmage, picking up 65 yards on eight carries. … Speaking of the running back battle, it’s a still a little muddy. James Starks has reportedly looked very good, outplaying Johnathan Franklin and Alex Green. All four (including Lacy) have been getting first-team reps. DuJuan Harris (knee) is still a couple weeks away from even practicing. Note that at that Saturday scrimmage, Starks started and then was followed by Lacy, Franklin and then Green. Lacy remains the best talent here and the heavy favorite for goal-line work. He’s the one to won. … Jermichael Finley reportedly hasn’t been involved much during drills and scrimmages, but coach Mike McCarthy said his contract-year tight end is “having a heck of a camp.” The lack of looks is worth noting as Finley recorded just 87 targets last year (5.4 per game) even though Aaron Rodgers attempted 552 passes. … Randall Cobb is still considered the primary return man even though he’s going to be an every-down receiver. No one has stepped up and seized the returner role. … Mason Crosby is in danger of losing his job. He’s 12-of-19 during camp while challenger Giorgio Tavecchio is 16-of-19.
Freakishly talented yet raw first-round WR Cordarrelle Patterson hasn’t cracked the first team yet. Greg Jennings, Jerome Simpson and Jarius Wright have been the receivers in three-wide sets. It’s going to take some time for Patterson to win that starting “X” job. … Just like last year, Adrian Peterson isn’t expected to play very much if at all in the preseason. He’s ready to rock. … The Vikings reportedly “won’t hesitate” to turn to backup Matt Cassel if Christian Ponder struggles. The report on Ponder’s camp so far has been “consistently inconsistent.”
Joe Morgan is running unopposed for the No. 3 WR job behind Marques Colston and Lance Moore. It’s Nick Toon vs. Kenny Stills for the No. 4 job. Keep Morgan on your radar as long as the injury he sustained during Saturday’s black/gold scrimmage isn’t serious. … Note that Colston remains on active/PUP due to a foot injury, but no one in New Orleans seems concerned in the least. Toon is Colston’s backup, Morgan is a strict outside receiver. … The Saints are insisting that a finally healthy Mark Ingram will be a “big part” of their offense. We’ll see. Ingram fumbled during the black/gold scrimmage and is expected to split base carries with Pierre Thomas.
Hakeem Nicks has been nursing a groin injury since the first few days of camp, causing coach Tom Coughlin to admit “frustration.” Meanwhile, No. 3 wideout Rueben Randle has been the talk of the town. Randle is worth rostering even if Nicks surprisingly sustains health all year, but he’ll absolutely explode if Nicks misses time. … The Giants have been practicing as if David Wilson and Andre Brown will operate in a relatively even, hot-hand kind of committee. They’ve listed the pair as “co-starters” on their initial depth chart. All we know for sure is that Wilson has far more natural talent and is the favorite to start games – giving him a far greater chance at getting that hot hand. We also know that Brown is the heavy favorite for goal-line work.
The quarterback battle was about even until the pads went on. Then Michael Vick began to separate from Nick Foles a little. It’s still Vick’s job to lose, and he’s shown no signs of a faceplant. … Matt Barkley has only gotten reps with the third stringers. … Jeremy Maclin was a good bet to be overdrafted as the No. 2 wideout in a run-heavy Chip Kelly offense. Those overdrafters are off the hook now that Maclin is out for the season with a torn ACL. … Maclin’s backup, Riley Cooper, subsequently became another candidate to be overdrafted. The 6’3/222 Cooper was going to play a lot of snaps because he excels as a run-blocker and can win 50-50 balls up top, not because he’s a difference-making receiver. But then a video emerged of an apparently drunken Cooper using a racial slur because he was peeved about not being let backstage at a Kenney Chesney concert. Now Cooper has been excused from the team and fined. It’s possible he’ll end up released. … Potential replacement Arrelious Benn has been sidelined by a hyperextended knee, just getting back in work Sunday. A name to watch is Damaris Johnson, a pint-sized poor man’s Tavon Austin whom the Eagles are high on. … Bryce Brown continues to pop runs to the outside far too often. It was one of his biggest faults as a rookie. LeSean McCoy is entrenched. … Rookie TE Zach Ertz has gotten some first-team reps, mostly in packages that also include one or both of Brent Celek and James Casey. Expect Celek to be primarily be used as a blocker and Ertz to get called upon when Kelly needs a flex tight end. None of the three are particularly appealing fantasy options.
We at Rotoworld are probably partially to blame for this, but there’s some thought out there that Vernon Davis is converting to wide receiver. That’s not the case. He’s getting significant practice reps there, but he’ll continue to primarily operate as a tight end. Still, Davis is working on his route-running because the Niners are going to lean on him heavily in the pass game. Michael Crabtree (Achilles) is out and no one is stepping up across from vet Anquan Boldin (who has been a go-to-guy for Colin Kaepernick at camp). Davis has been the best deep threat during camp and is a good bet to lead the team in receiving. … Speaking of the No. 2 wideout job, second-year man A.J. Jenkins is getting the first crack and not impressing while dealing with hamstring issues. Kyle Williams (ACL, hamstring) has been sidelined. The team signed Austin Collie, who will be a name to watch because he immediately steps in as the best talent in the room behind Boldin. … Marcus Lattimore’s recovery continues to progress well ahead of schedule. Dynasty owners need to take note as Frank Gore enters his age-30 season. … Rookie TE Vance McDonald opened up camp behind Garrett Celek, but that won’t last long. McDonald has been raising eyebrows. … Kendall Hunter (Achilles’) remains on active/PUP. If he can resume practicing soon, he’ll be Gore’s recommended handcuff. … Colin Kaepernick’s touch has reportedly improved dramatically since last season. He has MVP-level upside.
In a best-case scenario, the Seahawks will get Percy Harvin (hip surgery) back for Week 13. That’s in time for the fantasy playoffs, but it’s also a very long time to stash a guy who will be eased back in slowly. The Seahawks’ goal will be to get Harvin to 100 percent for the playoffs. … With Harvin out, the unquestioned star of camp has been Golden Tate. He’s been practicing in every single formation and doing a lot of the things Harvin does. Tate has long possessed more talent than his stats have shown, and now he’ll have a major role while in a contract year. Plenty of upside. … Sidney Rice missed time in camp while getting PRP therapy on his knee in Switzerland. It’s not an invasive procedure, but it’s clear he’s not 100 percent. … Harvin’s injury will be a good thing for Marshawn Lynch. The Seahawks were going to be run-heavy again, but now they threaten to be among the most run-heavy teams in the league. … Rookie Christine Michael has shined while Robert Turbin (foot) just came off active/PUP Sunday. Michael is a good bet to end up as Lynch’s handcuff.
The Rams continue to talk up the likelihood of a full-blown running-back-by-committee. Explosive outside runner Daryl Richardson is the slight favorite to start, but all-around back Isaiah Pead and power rookie Zac Stacy are also going to get chances. Their varying skill sets make the plan realistic. … Jared Cook is predictably having a big camp as he essentially becomes the Rams’ slot receiver. … Tavon Austin is generating more buzz in the return game than as a receiver. He’s significantly overvalued in fantasy circles right now. … The Rams listed Austin Pettis and Chris Givens as their starting outside wideouts heading into camp. There have been no reports that that’s changed over the last two weeks.
The Bucs’ public challenges to Josh Freeman during the offseason look like mere motivational tactics. Mike Glennon has moved past Dan Orlovsky for the backup job, but he’s not getting first-team reps. … Vincent Jackson is being asked to line up all over the field. Coaches are scheming ways to get him the rock. … One defensive note because it impacts fantasy matchups so significantly: Darrelle Revis (ACL) is covering wide receivers again and is firmly on track for a Week 1 matchup with his old friends, the Jets. … Peyton Hillis was signed to slide in and battle for the backup job with Michael Smith. He’s not a threat to Doug Martin’s potentially massive workload. … Luke Stocker is in the lead for the starting tight end job. Yawn.
Robert Griffin III (knee) continues to progress according to plan. He’s sustained no setbacks whatsoever after gradually increasing his reps each day and moving from 7-on-7 to 11-on-11. He’s not expected to play in any preseason games, but it will be a surprise if he’s not under center when the Redskins face the Eagles in Week 1. … Roy Helu is finally healthy after dealing with heel and toe issues for the better part of two years. Predictably, he’s running circles around Evan Royster and is on track to handle third-down duties and be Alfred Morris’ backup. … Fred Davis is reportedly looking explosive and speedy just nine months after his Achilles’ rupture. He should be creeping up draft boards. … Speaking of health, Pierre Garcon (toe, shoulder) has been able to sustain it so far. If he continues to feel good, he’ll far exceed his fifth-round ADP. … Garcon’s backup, Aldrick Robinson, has been one of camp’s standouts. Leonard Hankerson is scuffling.